Piano Recitals, Thanks to Liszt!

Last year, Google’s homepage ran a picture to celebrate the 360th birthday of Bartolomeo Cristofori, inventor of the piano and keeper of instruments for the Medicis in Florence. The instrument Cristofori invented was originally called a “harpsichord with soft and loud” even though the distinction between the two is large (the harpsichord produces sound by plucking strings, the piano by striking them with a hammer). Only three of the newfangled instruments he made – all of them dating from the 1720s – survive.

liszt-recitalMore than a century later the piano recital was devised. It was Liszt who first decided to have the whole stage to himself, and set the fashion for dispensing with the mixture of celebrities and supporting acts that had prevailed up to that time. As he wrote about his audacity to a friend: “Le concert, c’est moi!” And he called his appearance at the Hanover Square Rooms in London in June 1840 not a concert but a recital.

The composer-pianists of the day concentrated on their own works. Liszt set a marker in this regard, too, choosing music that ranged from Bach through Beethoven and up to Chopin. He set the pattern for playing from memory, and cemented the platform layout we know today by turning the then-conventional position of the instrument on the stage through 90 degrees. He was what we would now call a sex symbol as well as a star musician, and the new arrangement allowed the audience to see his impressive profile as well as to hear the instrument more clearly. The standards he set have survived without significant alteration right up to the present.

via Liszt is dead, long live the piano recital.

May 10 in Music History

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OCMS 1855 ~ Anatoli Liadov, Russian composer
More information about Liadov

• 1876 ~ Richard Wagner’s Centennial Inaugural March was heard for the first time at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, PA. Wagner did just fine for creating the magnificent work. He received a paycheck of $5,000. In 1876 dollars, that was quite a lot of money.

• 1888 ~ Max Steiner, composer and conductor, born. Best known for his film scores for such films as “The Informer” and “Now Voyager” for which he won academy awards and Gone With The Wind.

• 1899 ~ Fred Astaire (Austerlitz), Dancer

• 1899 ~ Dmitri Tiomkin, Conductor, composer: film scores such as “High Noon.”

• 1909 ~ Mother Maybelle Carter (Addington), Played melody on bass strings of guitar, rhythm on treble, singer with The Carter Family

• 1916 ~ OCMS Milton Byron Babbitt, American composer and theorist
More information on Babbitt

• 1935 ~ Larry Williams, Singer

• 1940 ~ Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra recorded the classic, Perfidia, for Decca Records. The song would later be a hit for The Ventures (1960).

• 1936 ~ Gary Owens, DJ, TV and radio host

• 1938 ~ Henry Fambrough, Singer with The Spinners

• 1941 ~ Danny Rapp, Singer with Danny & The Juniors

• 1945 ~ Graham Gouldman, Musician: guitar, singer, songwriter

• 1946 ~ Donovan (Leitch), Scottish folk singer

• 1946 ~ Dave Mason, Songwriter, musician, singer

• 1951 ~ Frank Sinatra teamed with Axel Stordahl’s orchestra and on Columbia Records.

• 1963 ~ The Rolling Stones produced their very first recordings this day. The session included Come On and I Wanna Be Loved. The Stones would make it to the American pop music charts in August, 1964.

• 1974 ~ Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely earned a gold record for the group, The Main Ingredient. The trio began as the Poets in 1964. Cuba Gooding, Sr. is heard singing lead.

• 2000 ~ Margaret Harris, a theater designer whose work helped modernize staid, gilt- laden English theater in the 1930s, died at the age of 95. Harris began attending theater as a teen-ager with her sister and a friend. They sketched the actors they saw on stage, sending the drawings to each theater. One sketch caught the eye of actor John Gielgud, who suggested the trio design the costumes for a production of “Romeo and Juliet” he planned to direct. Adopting the name Motley, the three went on to design several productions for Gielgud, including 1932’s landmark “Richard of Bordeaux,” “The Merchant of Venice” and “Hamlet.” Harris also worked on Broadway and in Hollywood, designing an American production of “Romeo and Juliet” starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh and working on the sets for the film version of the musical “Oklahoma!” Queen Elizabeth II made Harris a member of the Order of the British Empire in 1975. In 1997, she received a special Olivier award, Britain’s equivalent of Broadway’s Tony.